By Sayan Mukherjee Uruguayan Diego Forlan, arguably the most high-profile name of the 2016 Indian Super League (ISL), would need all of his globally-recognised skills to fire up Mumbai City FC’s campaign in the glamorous football tournament that begins October 1.
They would hope to experience a controversy-free campaign after enduring troubles on and off the pitch under last year’s coach-marquee player Nicolas Anelka.
The temperamental Frenchman struggled to juggle his dual responsibilities and failed to unite the team.
Disgruntlement among team members was apparent and his handling of Indian captain Sunil Chhetri’s playing position created a rift that took a toll on the side’s tournament aspirations, finishing seventh among eight teams.
Forlan, a more mellowed personality than Anelka, is expected to provide a calming influence at the top end of the pitch with his guile and experience to galvanise a promising offensive line, propped up by Chhetri and Haitian winger Sony Norde.
The 37-year-old will surely come prepared and has already harped on fitness as a key factor in the tournament. He is also aware that at this advanced age, it is his fitness that would be more under scrutiny than his technical skills.
ISL matches appear thick and fast, the interval between them being very short. Forlan has already done his ground work, terming ISL “a different type of tournament”.
“I have had that experience in many countries where I played. You play two games in a row and travel a lot. It’s important to have a fit squad. In two months, you play 14 games. You play many games in a short period and also travel a lot. That’s not easy. Everyone needs to be fit and available for every game. That’s important,” he said in Mumbai last week.
The focus should be turned towards the pitch, away from the paraphernalia surrounding the team last year.
New coach Alexandre Guimaraes’ role would be of paramount importance to conduct their business in the right perspective.
The Costa Rican has tonnes of experience, guiding his country in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, along with coaching roles in various parts of the globe.
But coaching in India under unaccustomed conditions and circumstances could act as a roadblock in his style of functioning. He has to stamp his authority quickly and win the trust of the players.
The key might well be his handling of the team’s three principal attackers — Forlan, Chhetri and Norde — with their individual strengths and weaknesses.
Backing up the offensive arsenal would be Argentine Matias Defederico and a glut of home-grown midfielders, Boithang Haokip, Jakichand Singh, Pronay Halder, Sehnaj Singh and Udanta Singh.
Guimaraes knows a healthy environment is very important to achieve the primary goal of qualifying for the semi-finals.
He would allow the players to express themselves but has admitted it would be within the framework of the team’s requirement.
The 56-year-old has claimed to possess clarity regarding his ideas and their implementation after conducting a training camp in Dubai, where they played four friendly matches, winning and drawing twice.
“You have to be prepared to deal with surprises, sometimes nice and other times they are not nice,” he has said.
Mumbai will launch their tournament away against FC Pune City on October 3 without several of the regular faces, injury and club commitments weakening them.
Fanai Lalchhuanmawai and Udanta Singh are injured, while I-League club Bengaluru FC’s entry into the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup double leg semi-final against Malaysia’s Johor Darul Tazim means Chhetri and goalkeeper Amrinder Singh would only be available after the conclusion of that campaign.
Guimaraes would have to ensure that they don’t fall too far behind without these players in the initial stage so that a late comeback becomes unlikely even when they join the team.
Goalkeepers: Roberto Volpato Neto, Amrinder Singh, Albino Gomes
Defenders: Aiborlang Khongjee, Anwar Ali, Asutosh Mehta, Facundo Cardozo, Gerson Viera, Lalchhuanmawia Fanai, Lalhmangaihsanga Ralte, Lucian Goian, Walter Ibanez, Munmun Lugun
Midfielders: Boithang Haokip, David Lalrinmuana, Jakichand Singh, Krisztian Vadocz, Leo Costa, Matias Defedrico, Brito Alves, Pronay Halder, Rakesh Oram, Sehnaj Singh, Sony Norde, Udanta Singh